Well, what on Earth?! Corby is the one who complains about the readings, right? This is my third time in a row getting good old Proper 28A to preach on! We get this little peek at Deborah who was a great and wonderful judge-our only peek into Judges in our three-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary. We have Paul reminding the church at Thessaloniki that Jesus’ arrival is imminent that just “When they say, “There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them,”. He reminds them that they are children of the light not of night and darkness. And, that they must encourage one another and build one another up.
Then there is this kind of bizarre parable-not that any of them aren’t a bit on the bizarre side. When I read this passage a few years ago at a Westport service, I asked the folks to listen and consider with which person in the story they might identify. They all said they felt empathy and understanding for the guy who was given the one talent. In my old sermon, I have information about those talents-each one weighed 75 pounds. I’m wondering if the slaves were given the number of talents not so much because of their intelligence or trustworthiness but by how much weight they could lift! 75 pounds, 150 pounds, and 375 pounds! That last guy must have been a powerlifter!
So, I wonder why Matthew depicts Jesus shifting his narrative-it must have been quite shocking to his listeners. I know folks look at this parable and say, “Don’t hide your talents, use them to be Christ in the world.” It’s true about some things we learn that if we don’t use them we forget them. I suppose that is a waste. I don’t think many of us are burying our talents where no one can see them. Though I think about those ice breaker questions and I’m sure I have encountered the one, “Tell us about your hidden talent (or super power),” or something similar. But I wonder if this is really about hiding talents-I suspect it isn’t about the money or how much it weighs. Is it about justice?
“For all those who have more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” And, I wonder about the folks in the camps who endured another “cleanup” last week. I didn’t go down this time-Chaplains on the Harbor wasn’t informed. I did notice that the FEMA tents that are insulated seem to all be gone from the upper camp on River St. And, all the structures are demolished and removed. Is that justice? “…even what they have will be taken away.” More tents were provided but they are the type that you or I-(well, when I was way younger)-would take on a nice summer camping trip. Again, the owner of Service Master allowed the campers to store their possessions on his property while the city cleaned the site. So, they didn’t lose everything, I suppose. But is this justice?
As I thought about this justice flip that Jesus takes in this parable, I went to the ecumenical Thanksgiving service. Marc was a bit nervous that some would be offended but he gave his blessing for one of his congregants to sing an original song. Then we followed up with Pete Seger’s “If I Had a Hammer” so I guess Marc did have something to say.
So, this is part of Jim Mitchell’s lyrics. “Lord, Help Me Do Justice”
You’ve given me blessings every day I’ve been alive/You’ve given me everything I need and more to thrive/ While others struggling in order to survive…
But I’ve got a tight hold on all the gifts you’ve given me/I’ve never been bold in stepping out where I can’t see/You’ve got to be strong to interact with poverty/And that’s stronger than my soul might ever be/But what do you ask of me today?
You help out the widows, not just a little/Care for the orphans, not just for your friends/Go serve the lowest, don’t just take notice/Lord, help me go this way/This I pray:
Lord, help me do justice, Let my soul understand/The love with which you entrust us/Joins the heart and hand/It commands every woman and man/To address the oppressed, /And to help them so they may stand/Lord, help me do justice, Today.
If I ever stand far back and view the poor and low/ I get the feeling I’m on the right track, where they may never go/But if I just turn and face my broken, mended soul/I realize grace is universal…
…My muscle, mind/My money, time/Lord, help me see they’re never really mine
…Unless I send them, spend them and lend them/For helping your kingdom/Jesus, I pray.
I like Jim’s idea of justice. That what we are given is love. I think of the stories from drug court and how folks who many thought were recalcitrant-unredeemable-have been redeemed by being given a first chance in some cases. I have visited folks in jail and seen real hope reflected on their faces as they talk about the opportunities they are being offered by our justice system. Housing, drug rehab, and social services. What a gift for someone who hasn’t had a place to live for many years. And, these were folks who were either hiding their talents or using them to develop what I call “unhealthy coping skills”.
I like Jim Mitchell’s idea of justice-that it comes from us-from our time and talents. I like this new idea of justice for folks who go through the therapeutic court system. What a bigger than 75- pound talent gift this is for our communities, our families, and our neighbors.
So, go read Judges, it is gory and a really good read. Lots of backsliding which we expect from the Hebrew scriptures because it is one of the themes there. And, Paul talks about backsliding or at least regression in his letters. And, we have Jesus who apparently views folks who hide or hoard their talents as despicable.
Don’t be despicable! Let’s take Paul’s advice and encourage one another and build one another up. It’s God’s love for us that joins the heart and hand to bring Christ’s love into the world.